Protests erupt in Congress as UN races toward Iran vote

Senate Republicans have found a new target in the war of words with President Obama over Iran: the United Nations.

They argue that the administration is about to leapfrog Congress by allowing the international body to approve a nuclear pact that lawmakers have not signed off on, let alone properly reviewed.

ADVERTISEMENT
The battle is uniting Republicans, from conservative firebrand and presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to GOP leadership and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, urged the administration to hold off on the U.N. Security Council vote.

Doing otherwise, Thune said, would show that “the president holds the opinion of the United Nations in higher esteem than the American people.”

The quick move toward the U.N. vote has also angered rank-and-file Republicans, with Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) saying that it makes it seem like the administration “always intended to bypass Congress by moving through the United Nations.”

Cruz is threatening to block nominees and funding for the State Department unless the administration prevents the U.N. Security Council from voting on the resolution on the nuclear deal, which could happen as early as Monday.

One of Cruz’s rivals for the GOP nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), also blasted the administration, suggesting that Obama is taking the deal to the United Nations first because he knows Congress will ultimately reject the deal.

“It’s a clear sign that he knows if this deal is reviewed closely by the American people, it will be rejected,” Rubio said. “We cannot allow America's security to be outsourced to the United Nations.”

The senators have bipartisan support on the other side of the Capitol. 

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said during an interview with "Lou Dobbs Tonight" that lawmakers would try to block Obama from lifting an arms embargo if he lets the U.N. vote take place before Congress approves, or disapproves, the deal.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, is also pushing back against the administration. The Maryland lawmaker said that waiting to take the deal to the United Nations until after Congress has voted "would be consistent with the intent and substance" of the review legislation.

The administration argues there’s nothing in the Iran deal that requires congressional approval before the international community can act.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Friday said the international body is showing “significant deference” to Congress by postponing implementation of the order for 90 days. The delay would allow lawmakers “ample opportunity” to review the deal, Earnest said.

Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, suggested to that the administration was under pressure from the other six countries involved in the talks — the so called P5+1 — to go to the U.N. sooner rather than later.

“It would have been a little difficult when all of the members of the P5+1 wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this… for us to say, ‘well excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress,’” she told reporters at a State Department briefing in the wake of the deal.

But, the administration’s move is threatening to antagonize Corker, who is among the handful of Senate Republicans who are undecided on the deal.

The influential Tennessee Republican called the decision to take the resolution to the United Nations “an affront to Congress.”

“This is exactly what we were trying to stop,” he said, referring to the legislation lawmakers passed earlier this year forcing the administration to hand over the deal so Congress could vote on it.

While Republicans face an uphill battle in overriding Obama's veto, there are plenty of Democrats skeptical of the deal, potentially putting another hurdle in the administration's path.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the issue reflected one of the “stark differences” between the administration and Congress.

The Maryland Democrat was crucial to brokering a deal on the review legislation that made the bill more acceptable to the White House.

Now, Cardin and Corker are teaming up to ask the president to hold off on the Security Council vote, suggesting that the move is a contradiction to the president’s pledge to let Congress and the American people review the deal.

Sen. Chris Murphy said that he would have preferred the administration wait on the U.N. vote. "It does create a very awkward dynamic in which the Security Council is going to unwind a set of sanctions that are deeply intertwined with the congressional set of sanctions."

But the Connecticut Democrat added that it was issue “that our allies felt very strongly about.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), however, suggested that lawmakers understood when they passed the review legislation earlier this year that the administration could lift sanctions that were not imposed by Congress.

“I’m just saying this was carefully worked out as we were working out the deal,” Kaine, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said. “There was a clear understanding that the president had some prerogatives in respect to international and executive sanctions.”